While most students roll out of bed 5-10 minutes before making the stroll to their first class, there are some out there that potentially face a 30-40-minute drive, through morning traffic that features horns, brake lights and stop lights before starting their first class of the day.
Among those that endure the double yellow lines of the roadways in order to complete their degree at Salem Academy & College is Megan Pleimann. Pleimann is a senior who is double majoring in biology, dance & movement science. In order to complete her college education, she faces a 25-mile trek from Pinnacle, N.C. that can take approximately 30-40 minutes daily depending on her morning commute.
One of the advantages that an on-campus student has in comparison to a commuter is that between class breaks they might head back to their dorms to complete coursework or study for their next class of the day. However, in the case of a commuter, Pleimann may face extensive breaks between classes. She describes her solution to that issue by “going to the Student Center for light studying or to hang out with friends, or the library if I really want to crack down on some work and focus.”
Another underlying problem that plagues commuters is a feeling of being disconnected. “I do feel disconnected sometimes,” explains Pleimann. “A lot of my friends are actually residential students, so it is really hard to stay late and hang out with them or find the willpower to make the half hour drive to campus on the weekends.”
However, Pleimann has solved this problem in her own unique way. “A good way I’ve found to overcome this feeling personally is to connect with all of my friends - either off-campus or residential - and make the time to really be present in the moment,” she explains. “A lot of time is wasted on the “what ifs” as an off-campus student (“what if they don’t want to travel to me to hang out?” or “what could I possibly do on campus that I can’t do at home?”) and I feel like student life is a lot more enjoyable once you realize that making friends in a new setting is no small feat, and that alone helps me feel more connected to both my Salem sibs and my college.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic all of us have faced an issue that Pleimann has endured during her time at Salem College—connectivity to resources. However, for a commuter this is vital because it has the potential to keep her from getting papers and coursework completed in a timely manner. “The biggest issue I face with connectivity is definitely having to plan ahead just in case something goes wrong,” said Pleimann. “That’s hard to do when you have a lot of classwork!”
While the times of traveling to and from class may open your mind to think about other vantage points, working from home and facing connectivity issues will place unwanted stress. “Many times, I have had connectivity problems at home that caused me to seek out alternative methods of submitting my classwork,” described Pleimann. “I remember a few distinct times where my home has not been ideal for online coursework - one of which being me driving to a town 15 minutes out and sitting in a Food Lion parking lot in an attempt to upload a video for a dance assignment. While I enjoy being able to work from home sometimes, I have always known that working away from home was always the easiest and most efficient way of getting my coursework done, so this remote learning has definitely come with its own struggles.”
Another key factor in being a commuter student, as opposed to living on-campus, is living by yourself or with family. While most on-campus students are faced with the quirks of getting accustomed to someone new and how their habits are different from their own, those that commute face a different situation altogether. “I definitely do feel like I miss out on that traditional ‘college experience’ sometimes,” explains Pleimann. “I always wanted that instant connection with a roommate - I remember being at orientation and seeing everyone else already best friends with their roommates, so I just kind of had to work my way into groups without that instantaneous connection. However, as I’ve continued through to my fourth year of college, I’ve learned that the ‘college experience’ is less about the environment, and more about the people you meet. I’ve been so lucky to grow with the wonderful people I’ve met at Salem, and I have no doubt in my mind that I have formed lifelong friendships - that is the college experience I wanted.
Why did you choose your major? What are career goals with your major?
I chose my majors because of my shared passions for both. There was a time when I thought I would have to choose one or the other because they were both on opposite ends of the spectrum - but how could I choose between my love of the arts/creation and my love of the sciences? I decided that going with both would let me utilize both of my passions and give me experiences in a multitude of disciplines. Originally I had planned on going to medical school to become a neurosurgeon, but my career goals right now likely include teaching biology to high school students (I would love to instill the love of learning in them) and opening up a dance studio where anyone and everyone is welcome.
What professor (or classes) has had the biggest impact on you during your time at Salem?
Dr. Traci Porter has definitely had the biggest impact on me at Salem. Dr. Porter is everything I wish to be as a teacher. She understands that each student has a different situation and different needs, and is so willing to work with everyone on an individual basis to make classes useful for everyone. She even supports her students by coming to events they’re involved in around campus. I think she was the one who actually taught me that professors can genuinely care about their students, not only as pupils but also as people.
Have you had an experience (working/in class/or one that you created on your own) that really helped you have found to be a defining moment of your life?
I think a defining moment in my life at Salem was definitely my internship at Dancing Daughters Ministry, Inc. It was where I saw my love of teaching mix with my love of dance, and it definitely made me start thinking about wanting to start my own dance studio that would foster such a loving and positive environment for learning.
If you are a commuter student, how has that experience been different for you at Salem?
The experience of being a commuter student was definitely a struggle at first - I felt out of place and like I couldn’t connect with the rest of the residential students like I wanted to because I couldn’t attend late night events everyone was raving about or anything held in the dorms. However, this played a big part in my desire to reform our Off-Campus Association. I remember my first year of college that our OCA was very laid back and rarely heard from except in the event of a Town Hall every once in a while, which I thought was a disservice to our off-campus population. Who was going to help them learn that we can mesh just as well in college life as residential students? I joined the OCA executive board shortly after and, with the help of a newly determined team, we redefined what Salem’s Off-Campus Association is. All of this to say, being a commuter student was difficult in the beginning. I felt like an outsider. But now, I have played a part in helping Salem’s off-campus student body feel included and like their voices and needs are heard. Being a commuter student has taught me that, when a system seems like it isn’t meant to accommodate you, you need to be the change you wish to see.
What groups are you involved in on campus that have gotten you connected to your other “Salem Sisters”?
I’m involved in a few clubs on campus but I feel that my newest club, Students for Reproductive Freedom is bringing me closest to my Salem sibs. I co-founded SRF with my friends Tai Batchelor and Yulia Trogdon with the mission of giving our Salem sibs a place to connect and confide in each other, as well as get resources that we all deserve. Through this group, I am learning that we all deserve to feel like we are heard and we are not alone, which I feel embodies a lot of what Salem stands for. Through Students for Reproductive Freedom, I am able to encourage everyone that they deserve to be in control of their bodies and education and have every right to connect with each other over the topics that we once felt were taboo.
Have you made connections with Salem alumnae that have given you insight on the business world?
When I did my internship at Dancing Daughters Ministry, Inc., I was under the supervision of Salem alum Hannah Calloway. She graduated from Salem with a BA in Dance Studies. From her, I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully run a dance studio and the things that go on behind the scenes of her nonprofit organization, such as the importance of marketing and building relationships with the people you work with to foster future business.